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Nov 27, 2020 11:31 PM
Lenora and Thorn do a tour of duty
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They play cards! Lenora teaches her another variant of the straight-collecting game. A couple other off-duty crew are in the galley, doing their own things, so Lenora visibly catches herself from asking about or mentioning something several times. Though she's not shy about being affectionate.

And then Lenora is on duty and Thorn is off. She could stay in the galley, go to her cabin, or perhaps something else like watch people work or explore the engine for nooks and crannies.

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She's going to go to her cabin and do her singing practice as quietly as possible. 

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Nobody yells at her about it, at any rate. Locomotive noises are enough to override some amount of singing.

 

The next day her assignment is Gunner. It turns out that gunners are also lookouts and do maintenance checks in the inhabited areas of the engine, as opposed to the machinery areas.

And around lunch they arrive again at Port Avon, bucolic and cheery and bright under blue stars. They'll be stopping for a few hours before moving on. Lenora has cargo-handling duty, but Thorn has the time off as long as she's back by 3 PM sharp. Preferably well before.

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She'll keep an eye on the time while she talks to the locals, then. What's up with the giant stone formations? How do the plants here grow so large?

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The locals seem to regard everything that intrudes on their peaceful suburban style lives as a terrible burden to be shirked as soon as possible. They tell her it was like that when they got here and act like they're natural wonders of some kind, and the flora of the Reach is just naturally huge, of course. Would she like to sample the garden show contest results for a few shillings? Does she happen to have any juicy gossip from the direction of London?

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She'll try the garden show contest results, but she doesn't have any gossip from Londonwards. 

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They do their best to disguise the weirdness of the Reach's varied plants, describing things that are clearly not squash or pumpkin or tomatoes or melons as squash and pumpkin and tomatoes and melons, and preparing them in ways that don't quite fit their flavors, but it's surprisingly varied and delicious nonetheless.

They're not unfriendly, exactly, but the local culture clearly thinks 'adventure' is adding a bit more sugar than usual to your tea and that sky-sailors are somehow inherently outsiders. Quite a pleasant place, despite that.

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She doesn't risk delaying the engine for this piquant place. She'll be back a good half hour before three.

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A few crew are having a picnic on the grass by the tiny rail yard, chatting with a local mechanic. The cargo loading seems to be done, Lenora is there too.

"It's peaceful, sure," the mechanic says, "But after a while there's bloody little to do around here. If I didn't have to take care of mum I'd sign up!"

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She restrains a charitable impulse towards the poor mechanic. If only all problems were easily solvable with money. 

"From the short tour I've had I rather agree with you. It's downright bucolic."

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"I'm half tempted to give a discount on repairs sometimes just to have something to do."

Lenora asks, "I guess trying to make something interesting happen here, like a workshop or shooting range or art club, is a no-go?"

"Not very peaceful-welsh-cabin-like, those things. But enough griping from me. Have fun in the cold sky, you lot."

The mechanic ambles off. The locomotive sets off again soon, with a slightly different set of cargo aboard.

 

They stop at two more places, Kensingtonville and New Devonshire, the following two days. They're basically just farming towns surrounded by a vague halo of homesteads on the same floating landmass, without even as much character as Port Avon. No bucolic orchards or grand ruins. Just farms and a small, unremarkable town each. They pick up food and lumber and drop off tools, stained glass, clothes, tea. Thorn gets to act as driver under the Captain's supervision for a bit, then as navigator's assistant. She also gets to help replace a section of pipe that one of the other stokers judges a bit too rusty.

Lenora manages to spend some time with Thorn, chats about their experiences flying and what she thinks of this crew, is happy to hear all about how 'proper' singing actually works and what she's practicing, laments that the beds in their cabins aren't really suited for fraternization and they can't really even talk about things that need to be talked about really privately.

After that, the verdancy of their surroundings ramps up, up, up, as they head towards the Leadbeater & Stainrod Nature Reserve. They'll be flying for three days straight this time - they're out of the region that's relatively well-populated. The lookouts are told not to mind the bees, they only attack if you have Chorister Honey, but keep a close watch for Scrive-Spinsters.

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Thorn eagerly follows instruction, soaking up her new roles like a sponge. She has a little skill at DIY repairs already from working on the barricades in the shadowland, and she's able to keep a charted course well enough. Things seem quiet as they pass through the little towns around New Avon; her occasional breaks to speak with Lenore come as a welcome relief with the work. She asks if there's such a thing as a sky-shanty, and if so can Lenora teach her some? She notes carefully what's sold and picked up at each port when she can, and if she's assigned anywhere near an open chart she might peek a little, but on the whole she keeps her head down. Lenora bartered favours to get her this position; she's not going to risk her reputation unnecessarily. 

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She is assigned near open charts when she has to keep a steady course! These particular charts show the western approaches of the L&S Nature Reserve.

There aren't really sky-shanties, exactly, but there are sky-songs. Slow, mournsome things that speak of loneliness and determination and dread and being smaller than everything else out here. Some of them contain things that sound like advice or warnings.

 

The Leadbeater & Stainrod Nature Reserve mostly consists of a few thin-looking buildings on a plateau in the endless chittering jungle, and some paths leading to what looks like some kind of research base, to some kind of tour house, or deeper into the greenery. There are a couple other engines here, and some of what seem like tourists wandering around. The place is rather pretty, in an overwhelmingly tropical sort of way. They're staying overnight this time, and setting off again around noon tomorrow.

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She practices a few sky-songs on her way in. Better to suit the place and time rather than annoy others with songs that don't fit the mood. 

She treats the reserve with a healthy wariness, preferring not to sit with the jungle at her back. Nonetheless, she takes the time to ask a few tourists what they hope to see here.

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Oh, they're mostly here for the flowers and birds. There are very pretty birds here and they might even discover a genuine new species, wouldn't that be something? One well-armed group is hoping to bag something ghastly they can make into a trophy and are rather cocksure as they head down past the research base - others edge away from them.

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She would like to be in the group of hunters except for all the ways where that's a horrible idea. She doesn't even have a proper rifle. 

She sits for a while birdwatching, then turns in to her cabin and rests. 

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The hunting group comes back rather disheveled, and with one man's arm in a splint. The captain loads... Two large somethings into the cargo bay, sealed irregular-shaped crates marked as CONTENTS FOR THE EYES ONLY OF AUTHORIZED WINDWARD COMPANY PURCHASER. They get their first week's pay, which the Captain hands out despite the fact that they're leaving port very soon.

And then they're off to Titania.

Thorn happens to be on lookout duty in the late hours of the dimming evening light when there is... Something locomotive sized but not really locomotive shaped moving around in a cloudbank a few miles ahead and somewhat off to the side.

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That's not a good sign. She keeps her glasses focussed on the blob of movement, and calls: 

"Hey, I've got something train-size moving in the cloudbank out the front here, possible Scrive-Spinster!" 

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The blob of movement continues to be blobby and moving. It definitely looks sort of like a cloaked figure gliding around, something flapping behind it.

The speaking tube rings back with the Captain's voice, "Bearing? Keep updating me."

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She gives the bearing. "Shape like a cloaked figure, can't tell which way it's heading in the cloud."

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"We can't see it, are you sure?"

The cloaked figure emerges from the deepest part of the cloud and resolves into what is pretty definitively a scrive-spinster.

"Correction, we see something. Driver, prepare to turn around-" The voice grows muffled as the captain leans away from the speaking tube in the bridge.

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"I can see it clear, it's a scrive-spinster! Heading and speed," she rattles off the way the beast is moving as best she can tell in the cloud. 

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There is swearing from the other end of the speaking tube. The engine turns around as the Captain calls out battle-stations below her.

But the scrive-spinster has definitely noticed them now and is heading towards them at considerable speed, a slight green glow seeming to almost halo around it. It screams. The turn seems to take forever, a long, long arc across the sky as the wind whips around the spotter's nest's glass and the engine groans slightly under the strain of decelerating and picking up again in the opposite direction. It makes a reaching and throwing motion but nothing immediately seems to happen...

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She has enough good sense to brace for impact anyway. She's seen the holes these things can put in engines.

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-There! The telltale red glow reveals the strike before it comes. A spear of wood as wide around as a head and as long as a person whizzes past fifty feet off with an echoing sound, thrown off by the wide turn the engine is now coming out of. 

"Thorn, get-! Blast, no time. Try your best to shout out when to dodge, we've got side-jets! If it gets too close we'll be forced to engage."

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